Tag Archives: angels

22 December – Good news for everyone!

The shepherds come bursting into the story, still smelling of sheep and a bit out of place in a maternity ward – however rough and ready it might be. But they remind us that Jesus’ birth is good news for everyone – including (or even especially) those who’ve got no business being there.

It strikes me for the first time this year that since Gabriel spoke once to Mary and once to Joseph about nine months previously, apart from Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, God has been quiet. He hasn’t (so far as we’re told) sent any more messengers, or even prophetic dreams. Mary and Joseph have simply got on with what they’d been called to do, bringing Jesus to birth miles from where they’d expected. They must have wondered sometimes what was happening to them.

But that night, the shepherds burst in and their excitement bursts out – the angels are back in celebration! It’s the confirmation of what this is all about. And it’s great news for the world.

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent

21 December – Glory to God, Peace to Earth

When the angels turn up, heaven hits earth with a bang. God’s universe-wide, history-long plan to step into our world is announced to a few working people on a dark hillside. And that’s one of the key things about Christmas – we celebrate every year that God’s work in the world isn’t just ‘then’ (whenever ‘then’ is) but Now. And it’s not just ‘there’ (wherever ‘there’ is) but here.

Looking around you, where can you see God at work today, perhaps even in your daily work? Will you be willing to step aside from the ordinary to pray and worship him? That’s a way to follow the shepherds today.

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

20 December – The Lord’s my Shepherd

We’re not familiar with shepherds in Wednesfield. But the ‘Good Shepherd’ is an image of God lots of us find helpful. The shepherds in today’s video remind us of what that shepherding involved in their day; it involved living among the sheep, caring for them, guiding and providing and sometimes protecting them. Israel’s greatest king, David, began life as a shepherd, and at his best he led his people with the same care.

Who are the shepherds of our community? Who are our guides, providers, protectors? And who do you guide, provide for and protect? Pray for them today and perhaps ask yourself what they reflect of the God who cares for us – or of what we need from God.

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

Blogging the Bible 362 – Revelation 12-14 – Part of a bigger battle 

It feels as though we’re backtracking in the story a bit at the start of chapter 12, and looking at the world’s struggles from a different angle.

We’re in heaven again, with the birth of a child who escapes a dragon, then the war between the angel armies led by the archangel Michael and by Satan. With the defeat of Satan in heaven, the last battles of the war are fought out here on earth. Empires rise and fall, political and economic systems dominate human life one after another. This isn’t some mysterious future still to come. This is human history.

And this human history is the last battleground of an ancient war fought and decided in the heavens. It reminds me of the last chapters of The Lord of the Rings, where Saruman, the great wizard corrupted by evil and pride, ends his days as a petty tyrant, oppressing the hobbits of the Shire until he’s defeated even there. Like Saruman in the Shire, Satan has been forced out of grandeur and denied his ambition to oust God. He can still cause misery, corrupt and diminish human lives, but he is far from what he once longed to be.

The fight of human history, the fight to be fully human together, is still to be completed. But the fury of that battle is great in part because, as John heard the voice from heaven say in 12:12,

Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with  great wrath, because he knows that his time is short.

The battle isn’t over yet – but it’s already won.

Blogging the Bible 360 – Revelation 6:1-8:5 – Together at the end of time

Whether it’s looking at the events of John’s day, the decades that were to follow or the whole span of human history, it’s clear as the scene unfolds before John’s eyes that things are changing, and painfully. The four horsemen ride out – but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re at the final end of things. war, death and famine haven’t exactly been strangers to the earth over the last 2000 years, after all. This could be a representation simply of the dark side of human history, with disasters happening time after time.

Then in John’s vision the sky is shaken and the stars fall. I don’t think this is meant to be taken literally, any more than is anything else that is to come. But it’s apparent that earthshaking events are indeed about to follow. But first God’s people must be safe.

And once again, we see the pattern I’ve seen afresh through this reading of the whole Bible. The numbering of the saints begins with the twelve tribes of Israel (ten long-gone before John’s day) and then explodes to the multitude of all nations, numbers beyond counting, who join with them before God’s throne. One last time, the nations are drawn through Jesus into the covenant of God and Israel which we have seen to be unfolding throughout history. Together they worship Israel’s God and his Messiah, joining their prayers to those of the angels.

In response to their praise, and to their lives of faith, the saints receive the beautiful promise,

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
   and worship him day and night within his temple,
   and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
   the sun will not strike them,
   nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Rev. 7:15-17)

And then…

Silence.

In heaven.

For half an hour.

In a way I find that silence more awe-inspiring than all of the vivid imagery that surrounds it. Apart from anything, John is the evangelist of the ‘Word’, by whom God speaks all things into being and sustains creation. If there is silence, then the world is still as well. For half an hour, God does not speak.

What must that silence have been like?

The eternal song of praise is silenced. Then the prayers of the saints are heard. And the world changes.

Blogging the Bible 269 – Luke 2 – Back to the Beginning…

Having just celebrated Easter, we’re back into Christmas with this chapter!

Luke starts the chapter with one characteristic bit and continues with another. First he sets Jesus’ birth in a clear historical frame. Unlike all the myths of the birth of pagan heroes and demigods, this doesn’t take place in some unnamed mythic time, but while Augustus was Emperor and Quirinius was governor. I know that there are all sorts of historical debates about the census (was it the whole world or just Palestine? When exactly did it happen? What does it mean to say ‘their own towns’? etc.) Luke’s meaning is clear. This is a real event within human history, not a parable. This fits with the whole emphasis of Luke’s telling of events ‘in order’, having studied his sources.

He goes on to bring in another of his emphases. While Matthew tells of Jesus’ birth being greeted by foreign sages with rich gifts, Luke points us to the marginalised poor – shepherds, living literally on the edge of the community. They are the ones who greet the Messiah with joy in response to the angels’ announcement.

Luke then tells us of Jesus’ childhood in the second half of the chapter. His coming to the Temple was recognised only by two elderly prophets – but in itself, it’s a continuning identification of Jesus with what has gone before through the Old Testament. The redeeming of the firstborn goes back to the first Passover, and God’s own firstborn now shares in the ritual remembering of his people. Simeon’s words of praise point to the opening out of God’s purposes through Jesus to the nations, just as his words of warning prepare the way for the conflict and pain that will mark the way to this opening out.

Then we have our one reliable account of the later childhood of Jesus (despite all the later ‘gospels’ that would try to fill in the gaps with inspirational stories!). And it’s not the gentle, obedient, plaster-halo version of Jesus that fills so many Christmas Carols for children. This Jesus wanders off from his parents in the Big City, Jerusalem, without an apparent concern for their feelings, or any understanding that they may see the world differently from him.

It’s a powerful reminder that being sinless didn’t stop Jesus having to go through a normal adolescence. And perhaps it’s a worthwhile reminder to parents of adolescents (which includes me!) that their ‘different’ take on the world isn’t necessarily sinful – after all, if Jesus could be so blind to his parents’ anguish…

I’d still love to have heard what Mary and Joseph had to say to him on the way back to Nazareth.

Blogging the Bible 243 – Matthew 1-2 – Ancient hope, new beginning

Today, with anticipation I open the New Testament after 242 readings from the Old, and – it’s a page of genealogy. Thanks.

Then I read it, and it makes a lot more sense than it has before that this comes as the first, off-putting page of the greatest book in history, the one I give to people when they’re ready to find out about God – the New Testament. Because now the names all ring loud and recent bells in my mind, as part of the story that I’ve just read. They make it clear that this book is not a new story, but follows on from what’s already been written; and that the key thing about that ancient story is that it has been worked out in human lives. God has not usually worked by heavenly decree, but through the ordinary and extraordinary people of the Old Testament. Their story has brought the world to this moment, where God enters the human story in person.

What’s particularly fascinating about Matthew’s genealogy is the inclusion of a few key women alongside the fathers and greatgrandfathers of Joseph. Rahab and Ruth, two Gentile women whose faith shines from the Old Testament, are mentioned by name. Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, isn’t given a name, but is ‘the wife of Uriah’ – for all of David’s greatness, his greatest sin is not hidden. Perhaps, too, we need to be reminded that the Messiah’s family tree doesn’t just include foreigners but also the legacy of lust, adultery and betrayal. After all, there’s some of that in most people’s ancestry, and this is part of the humanity he comes to share.

Overall, though, this whole introduction serves to link Old and New in Jesus. And something new is indeed happening – after the birth of Jesus, genealogies seem to lose their religious significance.

Once the story really gets going, with the conception and birth of Jesus – told mainly, here, from Joseph’s point of view. The meaning of the birth is spelled out in the two names given to the child – ‘Jesus’, meaning ‘God saves’ and ‘Emmanuel’, meaning ‘God with us’.

The visit of the Wise Men, with its tragic consequences for the families of Bethlehem, fulfils in symbol the prophecies of the nations coming to worship, but shows how even the greatest of worldly wisdom and the best of intentions need God’s guidance as well – and how acting on what seems logical and right can lead to disaster.

At the same time, their actions link again the two testaments, but with an ironic twist. In the book of Exodus, Moses was saved in Egypt from the infanticide of a tyrant, Pharoah. Now, a tyrant is in charge in Jerusalem, and Jesus has to flee to Egypt to escape with his life.

This whole story, with its glory and wonder and with its horror, is the more powerful now that I read it with the whole Old Testament story fresh in my mind. There’s a sense of fulfilment that comes across in a new way.

The genealogy helps. Honest.